Avoiding Skin Cancer in Summer
It is summertime - school is out, kids' sports are dominating weekends, and you are looking forward to that well-deserved week down the shore, at the lake, by the pool, or wherever your outdoor summer vacation may take you. Chances are, you are looking for the warmth of the sun to provide part of the tropical feeling the season brings.
Summer days and skin cancer prevention
This is also prime season for skin cancer development. Longer days mean increased sun exposure and more intense UV rays. Warmer weather leads to shedding clothing and direct sunlight contact for prolonged periods of time. Outdoor activity skyrockets. A nice tan that lasts into football season is a vanity goal for many. Even if you are not soaking up sunshine in a two-piece or board shorts, your skin is still susceptible to damage; cloudy days can give unforeseen burns as UV rays pass through clouds and reflect off surfaces like sand and water. Add that up, and it is a recipe for skin cancer.
Surprising skin cancer statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the states with the highest melanoma rates are primarily in the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah), New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont), and the northern Mid-America (Minnesota, Iowa), with Delaware and Georgia rounding out the list. Probably not the places most people would think when asked where melanoma is most prevalent. UV light does not discriminate based on zip code.
The good news
The "best" part(s) about skin cancer? It's preventable, or more preventable than nearly any other cancer. There is a very specific cause (UV exposure) that is commonly brought on by very controllable circumstances (too much sun exposure, not enough sun protection, and use of tanning beds). It’s also easily detectable - no CT scans or PSA levels needed, just some diligent self-monitoring and regularly scheduled professional observation.
Plan ahead for summer prevention
So keep that hat in the car all summer, or attached to the beach bag. Make sure there's sunscreen laying around for all outdoor activities - not just the beach, boat, or lake, but also the playground, garden, birthday party, golf course, and BBQ. Grab a long sleeve shirt on the days it is most intense, especially in/on/around the water. Cover up kids especially; five sunburns over before they are 20 could lead to an 80% risk in melanoma and 68% risk in basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Finally, be diligent about monitoring for skin cancer. Go to the dermatologist as often as you do the dentist (which should be every 6 months), and check out yourself (and your partner) regularly, and you stand a good chance of catching an atypical mole before it becomes cancerous.
How well have your skin cancer diagnoses been explained to you?